Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 26, 2010

Ecumenism: “More Is More”

I’m taking a short retreat this weekend with some men that I work with in an ecumenical contemplative prayer and male spirituality group. To prepare, we’re writing a narrative of our spiritual journey up till now. Last time I did this was about 20 years ago, when joining Reba Place Church (Mennonite/Brethren in Christ) as a member.

I was 24. One might say I hadn’t had much of a journey of any kind by that time. But measured by experience with different kinds of Christians and different styles of worship, or by relationships with people of other faiths, I was no slouch for a young man. I’m not bragging here, just reflecting on my experience some.

I had grown up Roman Catholic and still occasionally popped back in on a mass (still do); I had participated in a Southern Baptist young adult group, regularly attended Missouri Synod Lutheran church services, and been a leader in an ecumenical college student fellowship (Intervarsity); I had visited Assemblies of God, a Vineyard (Pentecostal?), urban black Baptists, PCA Presbyterians, Messianic Jewish services, and probably a few other denominations I’m forgetting by now. I had dated a Reformed Jewish girl, been a backup Gentile to do sabbath work for a conservative Jew, befriended a Ba’hai, volunteered at a UCC teen center, popped in at Willow Creek, and rubbed elbows comfortably with Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist believers in college and community organizations. I’d even hung out with a Rastafarian, and probably some Wiccans.

Suffice it to say I learned a bit from all of them, and hopefully taught them a thing or two as well. I am a genuine believer in tolerance. But I also think it’s important to stand for something, to seek spiritual discipline, guidance and community, rather than go it alone or believe nothing.

It’s been a long and winding road since age 24, too. Lots of fun. I won’t bore you with the following twenty years. But here’s the opening paragraph of today’s new “spiritual journey” narrative, just to give a taste of what it’s been like:

Great Dishwashers I Have Known

Brother Lawrence (c. 1614 – 12 February 1691) washed dishes at a Carmelite monastery about four hundred years ago, a practice which allowed him to get quite intimate with the Triune God. I don’t know a lot about him, but he’s one of my heroes nevertheless. My life has been a gradual process of chasing that same rainbow, of trying to get closer to God and other people, to feel full acceptance and love –without conditions or having to earn it by performing, and with full acceptance by others of the love and other gifts that I have to give. I crave relationships above all else. I like getting attention, but I also don’t mind offering it to others and letting them run the show. So being less needy, being happy washing dishes –being Brother Lawrence, or a naked St. Francis in the public square, with all their commitment and joy and peace –is what I aspire to.


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